Jeely jaurs and ginger bottles

24th July 1998 at 01:00
Like most folk from a west of Scotland working-class background I was bilingual from the age of five. One language for the house, street and playground and one for the classroom. To this day I cannot say Baillieston with any degree of conviction. To me and many others it was, is and always will be "Bilelisson".

In Bilelisson, some names were recollectable to the point of being unforgettable: Wucky Noal, Pink Burns, Porky O Rourke, Butsy Feeney, Scamer Bradley, Stank McAteer, Twig Buchan.

Porky was the Mr Big of Buchanan Street. He would organise us into raiding parties, a kind of pre-Commando Commando training for him, to steal jeely jaurs and ginger bottles from back courts and window-sills so that he could get the deposit money.

His leadership came under some strain one Guy Fawkes Night when he thought it would be a good idea to move the bonfire into an air-raid shelter because it was raining. The subsequent panic and remonstrations from our parents meant that I wasn't allowed to chap on his door for some time afterwards.

Pink Burns's real name was Peter and I took his nickname to be a shortened form of Pinky. This made sense as he was of a stature which certainly disqualified him for admission to the Brigade of Guards. The origins of Wucky, Butsy, Scamer and Stank I couldn't even guess at but it was a good bet that Twig's name had something to do with his regular appearances at the front of the Orange Walk twirling the baton.

Other names were just as memorable. Danny Dick, Rab Corrins, Eddie Brankin, Ernie Tamburrini. Ernie had a fearsome reputation as a hardman. His parents, "Wee Ernie" and Angie, owned the local chip shop and the story was that they had been interned on the Isle of Man during the war.

There were some folk, especially Eddie's teachers, who wished that he had stayed there.

There was a kind of caste system in the geographical distribution of names. The part of Buchanan Street where I lived consisted of two one-storey buildings built for miners' families. With their room and kitchen, running water, gas lighting and outside toilet they were probably desirable properties in the 19th century.

The surnames of the inhabitants reflected the origins of the original occupants; McGlone, McGhee, Feeney, Deeney, Burns, Connor, McDermott. Some of them still referred to our street by its first name, Penders Raw (Row). It wasn't exactly a ghetto, but there was no escaping the pervasive Irishness of the place.

Beyond Buchanan Street, in houses not much more salubrious but with electric light and inside toilet, existed the Sievewrights, Naismiths, Irons and McLeans.

Generally they didn't go to the same school as us, support the same football team or go to the same chapel. There was one family, the Quinns, who ran counter to this ethnic symmetry. Not only were they non-Catholics with a son called Pat; worse, Mr Quinn was a Communist, and worse still a Renegade, which meant he had once been of the Faith but had lapsed and now expressed vociferous and articulate criticism of it.

Mr Quinn was the first person I ever heard talk about the Spanish Civil War or say a good word about the Soviet Union while he proselytised at one of the street corners where the men would gather. There were three such places, the Shamrock, the Lily Corner and my father's regular haunt, the Toll, which was more or less mixed though probably more Shamrock than Lily.

When it came to names, though, Garrowhill took the biscuit. This was an adjacent estate, certainly not a scheme, built before the war and consisting of one-floor semis with back and front gardens, more than the occasional motor car in the drive and in the mid-50s lots of television aerials.

It was very confusing. The boy's first names were all second names: Miller, Bruce, Maxwell, Farquhar. There was certainly one called Douglas Dickie (or was it Dickie Douglas?) against whom I used to compete in the annual inter-school sports. I hated him, not just because he always beat me but because of his posh maroon athletics vest with the yellow chest-band, matching shorts and spiked running shoes.

The St Bridget's primary ensemble at the time consisted of a white semmit, in my case probably newly purchased with a "line" from Goldberg's warehouse, baggy football shorts and black sannys.

The relay team sometimes sported the school football jersey, green and white of course, probably intended to make us feel like a team, though more likely to antagonise the Proddy schools, especially Bilelisson Public who were our real rivals.

John Cairney

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